Preventing HIV in Asian Injecting Drug Users Could Help Curb AIDS Epidemic: UN
July 5, 2006
Today, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime's South Asia representative, Gary Lewis, said HIV was still contained in some nations within high-risk groups such as injecting drug users (IDUs), but countries need to seize the "window of opportunity." "That's why it's important to act now, while there is still a degree of containment in high risk groups," he said.
"If we can work to target infections with these communities, we have a real opportunity to contain the spread of [HIV] into the general population," Lewis said. Lewis spoke after a two-day UN-coordinated regional task force meeting in Kuala Lumpur on HIV/AIDS among IDUs.
UN officials said the HIV/AIDS epidemic is still concentrated among IDUs in some countries such as Malaysia and Vietnam in Southeast Asia, and Nepal and Bangladesh in South Asia. The UN estimates there are 1.3 million to 5.3 million IDUs in the regions.
The task force coordinator, Guillaume Le Hegarat, said the group advocates expanding public health services such as education and needle exchange programs and treatment options including substitution. "Unless we are able to reach at least 50 to 80 percent of the drug user population with these comprehensive services we will have saved lives, but we will not have made a difference in containing and reversing the HIV epidemic," he said. Currently, public health efforts reach less than 5 percent of IDUs in most Asian countries.
"We need to achieve a critical mass in order to make a difference," Guillaume said. "And not only do we need to reach this critical mass, but we need to do that very quickly, within the next three to five years."
Agence France Presse
This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.